A Surrey North Downs winter woodland can be a quiet place. This afternoon, on Ranmore Common, a couple of hours were spent in slow motion, wandering the tracks that criss-cross this chalky ridge that is coated in a copious layer of mud. The paths ooze the brown stuff, with standing water barring passage and making the cleaning of the footwear an urgent need when returning home. But that can wait - there are birds to find here - good birds, birds such as Hawfinch, Crossbill, Firecrest, Marsh Tit and even, if you are lucky, Goshawk. Nothing doing so far, so just slow down, breathe easy, concentrate. But they still do not come. Hardly any tit flocks, few finches, the quiet has a chill but not unpleasant feeling, more one born of a message: "Not today Steve, try again next time."
The light is fading, my rough passage through the undergrowth is made in the hope of a flushed Woodcock, but still the birding Gods are not interested. I look up into the skeleton canopy and fix my pleasure upon the ice-blue sky, freshly liberated from the earlier battleship grey. It elevates and promotes hope, a consolation for the no-show of birds. But that's birding. There is always tomorrow.